Sin in the South Following the death of Jeroboam, the author of I Kings starts his step-ladder” process by picking up the history of the southern kingdom of Rehoboam. Beginning with I Kings 14:21, we read:
And Rehoboam the son of Solomon reigned in Judah. Rehoboam
was forty and one years old when he began to reign, and he
reigned seventeen years in Jerusalem, . . . and Judah did evil in the
sight of the Lord, and they provoked him to jealousy with their sins
which they had committed, ... for they also built them high places,
and images, and groves, on every high hill, and under every green tree.
This was identical to what had been happening in the north, except
that in the south they had Baalism exclusively, whereas in the north
they had a combination of Baalism and the sin of Jeroboam. Verse 24
adds: “There were also Sodomites in the land: and they did according to all the abominations of the nations which the Lord cast out before the children of Israel. The word sodomite refers to male cult prostitutes who were also referred to as dogs. It is obvious that rather than maintaining themselves in the religion of Yahweh, and the worship system at the temple of Solomon as God had prescribed it, the people had begun to involve themselves in the sexual aspects of Baal worship. These evil
practices corrupted their minds and, as Hosea would say later: “The
spirit of harlotry has led them astray. “ Because this involvement became ingrained in the people, God sent judgment on Judah and the house of Rehoboam from an outside source. This was a promised provision in the Davidic covenant.
War with Shishak In the fifth year of king Rehoboam, Shishak, king of Egypt, came up against Jerusalem. This was the same Shishak to whom Jeroboam fled for safety when Solomon sought his life. To understand the impact of what took place under Shishak, it is necessary to go back and read a few verses of the Davidic Covenant in II Samuel 7. God had prophesied what would take place when the seed of David, through Solomon, began to sin (II Sam. 7:14ff)
I will be his father, and he shall be my son. If he commit iniquity,
I will chasten him with the rod of men, and with the stripes
of the children of men; But my mercy shall not depart a way
from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away before thee.
Just as the chastening rod had fallen on Solomon when he began to sin, even so now, the chastening rod, more violent and intense this time, fell upon Rehoboam. When Shishak invaded Jerusalem, he took all the treasures of the Lord’s house and the king’s house. He took the shields of gold which Solomon had made and carried them back to Egypt. Pharaoh Shishak recorded these and other military exploits on the temple wall in Karnak, Egypt. He recorded there that he invaded Rehoboam, spoiled the king of Jerusalem, and that he took all the wealth from the temple and the king’s house.
The record of Shishak’s activities on the temple wall in Karnak
was written in Egyptian hieroglyphics. Prior to the nineteenth century,
no one was able to read them. However, this changed after one of
Napoleon Bonaparte’s engineers discovered the Rosetta Stone at
Rosetta, Egypt, near the mouth of the western branch of the Nile. It
is an oval-topped black granite slab about 3 feet 9 inches high, 2 feet 4 inches wide, and 11 inches thick. The writing on its face is in three
languages common to the Nile Valley. One was Greek, but the other
two were unknown to the scholars of that day.
Through the years many men tried to read the two languages.
Finally, a Frenchman by the name of Jean Chameleon dedicated his
life to digging out the mysteries of the Rosetta Stone. He was
supported by his older brother, and for twenty- three years he
wrestled with the contents of the Rosetta Stone. Finally, in 1822, he
published complete translations of the tri-lingual inscription. He
discovered that one of the unknown languages was Egyptian demotic, the language used by the Egyptians during the time of Christ. The other was Egyptian hieroglyphics. Scholars could translate the Greek and thereby translate the Egyptian demotic. By understanding the demotic, they broke the code of the hieroglyphics, the picture
language of ancient Egypt.
Thanks to the extensive efforts of those two men, and to the timely
discovery of the Rosetta Stone in the providence of God, scholars were able to read the language of the Pharaohs, thus enabling future
archaeologists to unlock the hitherto unknown historical and literary
treasures of the Nile valley, among which was the record of Shishak on the temple wall in Karnak.
XLVI THE CONTEST: JEHOVAH VS. BAAL
The history of Israel between 931 and 722 B.C. can be divided
into three distinct religious periods. The period known as the Sin of
Jeroboam began in 931 B.C. and ended with the death of Omri in 874
B.C. There is some overlap, but by and large the people worshiped the golden calves in Bethel and Dan during this period, although there was some mixture of Baalism.
Beginning with the ascendancy of Ahab to the throne in 874 B.C.,
and continuing until the death of his second son Joram in 841 B.C., we have a period we can define as the Sin of Ahab, when Baalism was the established religion of Israel.
After the purge by Jehu in 841, until the demise of Hoshea in 722
B.C., we have a period we can call the Half-Reform of Jehu because Jehu’s job had been to eradicate Baalism from Israel. Although he obediently and zealously succeeded in that, he only returned back to the worship system which Jeroboam had established; he did not lead the people all the way back to the pure worship of Jehovah. Hence, the term, half-reform.
Dynasty of Baasha You will recall that part of the prophecy given by Ahijah to the wife of Jeroboam was that his house would be cut off. Chapter 15:28ff records the fulfillment of that prophecy. Jeroboam’s son Nadab was on the throne, but: in the third year of Asa king of Judah did Baasha slay him, and reigned in his stead. And it came to pass, when he reigned, that he smote all the house of Jeroboam; he left not to Jeroboam any that breathed, until he had destroyed him, according unto the saying of the Lord, which he spake by his servant Ahijah the Shilonite: Because of the sins of Jeroboam which he sinned, and which he made Israel sin, by his provocation where-with he provoked the Lord God of Israel to anger.
By now, two-thirds of the prophecy given to Jeroboam had come to
pass. First his son had died; second, the house of Jeroboam was cut off. The third prophecy, the dispersion of Israel, would not occur until
The remainder of chapter 15, and all of 16, is packed with intrigue.
Baasha’s death is recorded along with the sin which preceded it. Elah, his son, then reigned for two years in his capital at Tirzah. He was assassinated by Zimri, the commander of one-half his chariot forces, while participating in a drunken orgy.
As soon as Zimri became king, he killed every male in Baasha’s
family and of all his relatives and friends, ending the dynasty of Baasha just as Baasha had ended the dynasty of Jeroboam. This method of securing one’s position on the throne has been practiced down through the centuries. You win recall that is what made David’s treatment of Saul’s grandson, Mephibosheth, so unusual. Nevertheless, we recognize that although these men were acting in accordance with the expectations of their time, they were fulfilling the program of God to bring judgment on the descendents of those who failed to five by His ordinances.
Success of Ormi Zimri’s coup was not popular and Its reign lasted only seven days. The rest of the army, under the command of Omri, heard about Baasha’s assassination and besieged the city where Zimri was. Seeing that his was a lost cause, Zimri committed suicide by setting the building on fire while he remained inside. The army officers then crowned Omri king over Israel.
First Kings 16:21 records that the people were not united behind
Omri. Half of them preferred Tibni, the son of Ginath. So, from 885 to 880 B.C., a period of five years, there was an overlap with two kings reigning simultaneously until Tibni died and the nation united behind Omri (vs. 22). Omri was a powerful military monarch. So powerful that in the extant records of surrounding nations, archaeologists have discovered tablets which refer to Israel by the name “land of Omri. “ One of his notable accomplishments was to build the city of Samaria and make it his capital. Because Samaria was on a hill about three hundred feet above the surrounding land, the trade routes ran right by the base of the hill. In this way, the cunning and powerful Omri had a commanding position over the trade routes from his fortress in Samaria. As a result, he was secure militarily and could demand tribute and toll payments from caravans that needed to travel past his city.
Omri was a powerful and astute King by the world’s standards,
but “he walked in all the way of Jeroboam ... wherewith he made Israel to sin” (vs. 26). One of his acts of most far-reaching significance, was to arrange a marriage between his son Ahab, and Jezebel, the daughter of the Sidonian king Eth-baal. Although we previously discussed the concept of political and military alliances between reigning families, we will now see the disaster which resulted because of the alliance which Omri arranged for his son Ahab.
Ahab’s Unholy Alliance The marriage of Ahab to the daughter of Eth-baal had several religious and political implications. First of all, the Sidonians were fervent Baal worshipers. In addition, as king, Eth-baal was also the High Priest of Baalism and his daughter Jezebel would be classified as the High Priestess. For political expediency, the king of Israel was married to a high priestess of Baal. Is it any wonder that we read in 16:31 that he “went and served Baal, and worshiped him, “ and in verse 32, that “he reared up an altar for Baal in the house of Baal, which he had built in Samaria. “ This evil union initiated the second religious period in Israel’s history, known as the Sin of Ahab. Under Ahab and Jezebel, Baalism became the state religion of Israel. Verse 33 sums up the period by saying that “Ahab did more to provoke the Lord God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel that were before him.
Before continuing with chapter 17, it is necessary to examine the
basic tenets of Baalism. Since it had become the official religion of
Israel, the people were fully involved not only in the prostitution
system, but also in the entire concept of Baal’s control of fertility in all
of its ramifications. They looked on him as the source of rain, sunshine, productive crops, and as the god of all things which multiply on the face of the earth. They believed that as long as they worshipped Baal and were faithful to him, their crops would grow, the rains would come in their seasons, and everything would be fertile and productive. This was a belief maintained from the least Israelite to the greatest, (except for the seven thousand and some prophets), even Ahab himself.
Enter Elijah It is against this background that we are introduced to Elijah the prophet in I Kings 17:1.
And Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the inhabitants of Gilead,
said unto Ahab, As the Lord God of Israel liveth, before whom
I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but
according to my word.
Only if we understand the background against which Elijah made
this statement, can we understand its significance. Ahab did not
believe Elijah. As a Baalist, he believed that Baal controlled the rain. So, when this hairy man, girded with leather garments pointed his finger at Ahab and declared there would be no rain “but according to my word, “ the king probably chuckled to himself.
Immediately following his unusual pronouncement, Elijah turned
and left (vss. 2-4)
And the word of the Lord came unto him, saying, Get thee
hence, and turn thee eastward, and hide thyself by the
brook Cherith, that is before Jordan. And it shall be, that
thou shalt drink of the brook; and I have commanded the
ravens to feed thee there.
Elijah traveled to Cherith and verse 6 says, “The ravens brought him bread and flesh in the morning, and bread and flesh in the evening, and he drank of the brook.”
For a while, Elijah was well cared for and comfortable. Then, since
there had been no rain, the brook began to dry up. Elijah learned quickly that he lived in a physical universe that was still subject to the physical laws which God had established; so when rain was withheld, the brook dried up. If He had desired to do so, God could have supplied Elijah with water from a stone as He had once done in the wilderness. But now the time had come for Elijah’s faith to be tested.
Have you experienced drying brooks in your life? Perhaps drying
brooks of finance, or physical health, or an eroding ministry? What has been your response to them? Elijah’s response was simply to obey God’s command directing him to another location. He could have sat by the brook Cherith shaking his fist at God and demanding, “Where is the food and water You promised me?” Instead, he obeyed God and went to Zarephath.
When he reached the gate of the city he met a widow. She was
faithful in giving God the first of everything, and invited Elijah to share
what she thought would be her last meal. As a result of her simple
faith, she and her household, as well as Elijah, ate for many days be-cause “the barrel of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord, which he spake by Elijah.
(She was additionally blessed later, when her son became sick and died, and Elijah brought him back to fife.)
Elijah’s dry brook was not a dead end but a new beginning.
Because he was obedient and faithful, he received a new ministry, saved a family, performed the rare miracle of raising a person from the dead, and became an illustration for Christ’s teaching on sovereignty (Lk. 4:25, 26). As we react in faith to our drying brooks, God will overflow Jordan with spiritual blessings for us and we will have the assurance that He is working out His perfect will in our lives (Eph. 2:10).
Contest on Mount Carmel Chapter 18 is the account of the famous Mount Carmel contest. Verse 1 says that “it came to pass after many days, that the word of the Lord came to Elijah in the third year, saying, Go, shew thyself unto Ahab. “ The Lord was ready to send rain on the earth. After three and a half years of drought, Ahab had slowly realized that indeed it was not Baal but Jehovah who could stop the rain. Now it was time for Elijah to make known that Jehovah was the One who also could cause the rain. Through those years, Ahab had cursed God, cursed Elijah, and looked everywhere for him without success. During the same time, Jezebel had destroyed the prophets of the Lord because of her anger that Elijah’s prophecy had in fact come true.
It is in James 5:17 that we learn the drought actually lasted three and
one-half years; so “the third year” of chapter 18: 1, is to be reckoned after three full years of drought. Quite possibly, the drought is counted as both beginning and ending at the start of a normal Palestinian dry season. It had resulted in lost crops and famine, and Ahab, as Israel’s leader, was helpless.
But even after this, his view of the problem was so twisted that when he met Elijah he asked (vs. 17), “Alt thou he that troubleth Israel?”
Elijah replied (vs. 18), “I have not troubled Israel, but thou, and thy
father’s house, in that ye have forsaken the commandments of the Lord, and
thou hast followed Baalim. “ Then he ordered that the people of Israel and all the prophets of Baal and Ashterah be gathered together on Mount Carmel. Ahab sent messengers throughout the land and a large number of people gathered together. In the group were four hundred fifty prophets of Baal.
God always complicates an issue so no one can mistake the
significance of what He is doing. In this regard, I call your attention to
the location chosen for this contest. Just as Mount Sinai was holy to the Israelites, so Mount Carmel was holy and sacred to the Baal worshipers. They believed it was his dwelling place. It was not a coincidence that Elijah called the people there to observe the con- test between Jehovah and Baal. All of the odds were in Baal’s favor because, as polytheists and henotheists, the Baal worshipers believed that they were in the most powerful place possible for Baal to win the battle. Not only that, Elijah also said, “Give us two bullocks; and let them choose one for themselves. It was like the times when men would duel. The challenger would bring out two weapons and, as a gentleman, would allow the other to pick his weapon, in this way assuring him that neither pistol had been tampered with. Then Elijah proposed the test (vs. 24): “Call ye on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the Lord: and the God that answereth by fire, let him be God. “ Why by fire? Because the Baal worshipers believed Baal was the god of fire and lightning. Now all the odds were in Baal’s favor.
The Ugarit tablets contain some verses of Baal poetry which say
that Baal carved his castle from the rock with fire. “The fire ate out the
windows. The fire ate out the doors. The fire carved the corridors and the rooms. “ The ancient Baal worshippers all believed that fire was used by Baal at his command.
When Elijah spoke to the people, saying (vs. 2 1), “How long halt
ye between two opinions? if the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then
follow him, “ the people had not given him an answer. But when they
heard the terms of the contest, that the test would involve who could
call down fire, they replied, “It is well spoken “ (vs. 24). All the odds
appeared to be in the favor of their god, Baal.
About noon time, according to verse 27, after the false prophets
had leaped about the altar and performed all of the rituals they believed necessary to call Baal’s attention to their contest, Elihah began to mock them: “Either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awakened. “ These caustic remarks only goaded them to greater frenzy, so they continued all afternoon screaming and crying and cutting themselves until their blood gushed out. This concept of self-flagellation to attract the attention of a god, has been used by religions of every type, cult, and denomination, throughout the centuries. Prior to the Reformation, even men such as Martin Luther would crawl up stairs until their knees were bloody in an attempt to appease God and implore Him look with pity upon them.
The Ugarit tablets, and other extant literature from ancient times, indicate that these prophets would cut off their fingers and throw them on
the altars of Baal and Asherah in an attempt to pacify them. But all of
this self-mutilation was to no avail.
About the time of the evening sacrifice (vs. 29), Elijah solemnly
said, “Come near unto me. “ I am certain that by this time the people
began to gather in a hushed manner around the altar. Elijah repaired
the altar of the Lord that had been tom down and raised an altar to the Lord with twelve stones. He dug a trench around the altar, cut the wood and the ox in pieces and laid them on it, then drenched everything with water until the trench was full. He complicated the whole situation to such an extent that no one could say it was an accident or a coincidence.
It came to pass at the time of the offering of the evening
sacrifice that Elijah the prophet came near, and said, Lord
God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day
that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and
that I have done all these things at thy word. (vs. 36)
Observe Elijah’s invocation: God of Abraham-the God of promise;
of Isaac-the God of miracle, God of Israel-the God of change. The fire fell
from Heaven, consumed the offering, the stones, the dust, and “licked” up the water out of the trench. When the people saw this, they fell on their faces crying, “The Lord, he is the God,- the Lord, he is the God. “ Elijah ordered the false prophets seized, dragged to the brook and executed. Ahab watched this amazing spectacle speechless until Elijah said, “Get thee up, eat and drink; for there is a sound of abundance of rain. “
Ahab left to eat but Elijah went to the top of Carmel, where he sat down and put his face between his knees. Seven separate times he sent his servant to look for a cloud. Finally, his servant reported, “Behold, there ariseth a little cloud out of the sea, like a man’s hand. “ Only a wisp, but Elijah sent his servant down with a message to Ahab, “Prepare thy chariot, and get thee down, that the rain stop thee not. After three and a half years of drought the ground was rock hard like cement. Elijah knew that when it began to rain, flash floods would rush across the desert and sweep away everything in their path.
Very soon the sky grew black with clouds, the wind began to
blow, and there was a sudden downpour. Through the blinding rain,
Ahab returned to Jezreel in his chariot. But the hand of the Lord was on Elijah, and He girded up Elijah’s loins and he outran Ahab’s horses back to Jezreel. Ahab, shocked and numbed from the day’s events, looked through the blinding rain to see the prophet Elijah, running in the power of God past his speeding chariot!
XLVII FURTHER ADVENTURES OF ELIJAH
According to chapter 19:1, Ahab went back to his palace and
described the day’s events to Jezebel, who was enraged at the execution of her prophets. She quickly sent a message to Elijah, saying, “So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I make not thy life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time.
Elijah Flees Unfortunately, as so often happens after a great spiritual victory, Elijah was both physically and emotionally exhausted. He was easy prey for a satanic attack and an attack of psychological depression and despondency.
Elijah left Jezreel and ran for his fife all the way down to Beer-sheba,
a long distance from Jezreel. After running to Beer-sheba, he went a
day’s journey into the wilderness. In his despondency, he was ready to have God take his life; in fact, he was on the verge of committing
suicide. Lying down under a juniper tree, he fell into a deep sleep of
depression. He was awakened by an angel who commanded him to
“arise and eat. “ Near his head, he discovered a jar of water and some
bread. He ate, and because of his exhaustion, fell asleep again. Once
again the angel awakened him, this time saying, “Arise and eat, because the journey is too great for thee. “ On the strength of that meal, Elijah traveled for forty days and nights to Horeb, the mountain where several centuries earlier, God had given the Ten Commandments to Moses.